The final Friday card of the 2021 meet is a nine race program, highlighted by a very good optional claiming/N2X allowance race on the grass in Race 8. The weather forecast is a little suspect, as there were some hit or miss showers yesterday and possibly a few more in store today. I’ll handicap the turf races for both surfaces. With three days of racing, the jockey and trainer titles are pretty much decided. Wayne Potts has a 10 win lead over Kelly Breen in the trainer standings. Paco Lopez has ridden the wave of an incredible run over the last several weeks. He has won 100 races at this meet going to the final weekend, and is 47 wins ahead of Isaac Castillo. This is a pretty remarkable feat, as only two months ago, he was leading by only three wins.
|DBL, PK3, PK5|
|2||3,5||DBL, PK3, PK4|
|4||7,11||1||DBL, PK3, PK6|
|DBL, PK3, PK5|
|6||7,8||DBL, PK3, PK4|
Race 1: Top Pick: 2 (Turf) / 8 (Dirt)
Fillies and mares start the afternoon in a race carded for the grass at 1 Mile and 1/16. Wicked Groove (2) has been wicked good since trying the turf three starts back. She was third when taking the short end of a three horse photo three back. She proceeded to win her next two races, dominating a $16K maiden claiming field two back and scoring with $16K N2L claimers in her most recent start when facing winners for the first time. She takes a step up in class and faces a decidedly tougher group, but she’s making her first start for Darien Rodriguez, who excels with horses in their first start off the claim. She figures to sit a nice trip, just off the early leaders. That kind of trip has been golden on this course in the last few weeks. Donya’s Magic (5) comes back to a more reasonable level of competition after unsuccessfully dancing with N1X allowance foes last out. Prior to that, she was very good in the restricted $16K-$14K claiming level here on the grass. She could very well be lone speed in this race, which makes her a threat on the drop in class. Why Not Tonight (4) has a similar look to Wicked Groove as both are improving three year old fillies coming off a win with $16K N2L claimers, where they were claimed. She was more impressive in her heat, drawing off to win by three lengths. She’d prefer them to go a little quicker on the front end, so Ferrer has to be careful about not leaving too much work to do late.
On the dirt, Tahitian Breeze (8) is capable of running the same race on either surface. She has been facing better lately on the grass. When she runs on the grass, she tends to lag near the back of the pack and make one run, so I think she’s better suited for the bottom of the vertical exotics if this race stays on the turf. However, she has proven to have more tactical speed when racing on the main track, so I think she might benefit the most from a surface switch. One Night Stand (3) was re-claimed by Joe Orseno, who clearly wanted to get her back on turf. Her lone turf start was where she earned her best career speed figure, however, her dirt form has been getting of late. She met runaway winners in her last two dirt starts. This is a big step up on turf, but probably a lateral move, despite the higher tag, if the race is run on dirt. Wicked Groove has never gone two turns on the main track, but her dirt sprints weren’t awful. She has improved at longer distances on the grass, and would be worth including if she runs on dirt.
Race 2: Top Pick: 5
New Jersey bred two year olds run under maiden allowance conditions in their last opportunity to face state bred rivals on dirt until next May. Six have entered, but it feels like this is a two horse race. On The Come Up (3) is going to be the heavy favorite here after finishing second to a dominating winner from the Eddie Owens barn (Speaking) last month at this level. That one ran well enough to merit entry into the Smoke Glacken Stakes on Sunday against open company. On The Come Up led under contested fractions before yielding to the eventual winner in the stretch. He was clearly second best that day, finishing 3+ lengths in front of the third place finisher and about eight lengths ahead of my top pick, Forever Chocolate (5). That one makes his second career start after coming in 5th at first asking. Rory Huston has good numbers with second time starters, most recently beating Paco Lopez with Get Groovy here in a similar race on Friday. Lopez does hop off this one in favor of the On The Come Up, but I think Forever Chocolate will be the better value bet. Mychal Sanchez, who had a pair of winners on Sunday here, gets the call.
Race 3: Top Pick: 7 (Turf) / 9 (Dirt)
Multi-conditioned $12,500-$10,500 claimers are scheduled to go five furlongs on the grass. If they go on the turf, Paco Lopez and Large (7) are going to be tough to beat. He was claimed at this level last out by Kelly Breen when trying a two turn race on the turf two weeks ago. He came up short that day, but he has two better efforts in 5 and ½ Furlong sprints here in August. I’m expecting a better effort in his first start for his new barn. Valiant Thor (1) may have some upside at a price in this spot. He’s taking a definite step up in class after defeating $10K N2L claimers at Colonial last month. However, that was his first sprint, and he’s bred to better going shorter distances. He may have enough early speed to get the jump on this field and he might be able to keep finding if he does. San Antone (5) is a steady type of horse that just keeps running the same races. He is a three time winner, with one of those wins coming in a turf sprint at this distance. He’s been close with similar in his last two.
On the dirt, the MTO horse, Ego Man (9) has a definitive class advantage over this group. If he gets to run, he’ll be making his 5th start of the year at the 5th different track. His last two haven’t been great, but this is a much softer group, especially with some likely defections. Uncaptured Soldier (8) is the main danger, making his second start after being re-claimed by Jesus Cruz. Despite claiming him again for $12,500, he stays at the same level, where he faltered as the heavy favorite in his last two races carded for the dirt. I don’t love his chances on the grass, but he makes sense if the race comes off. The same could said for San Antone (5) who has a nice effort a few starts back on a sloppy track. He has been better on the grass, but I would upgrade him if there is an off-track.
Race 4: Top Pick: 11
I anticipate that the Shug McGaughey first time starter, Surprising (1), with Paco Lopez riding, will take the bulk of the action at the windows in this maiden special weight contest for two year old fillies. Her works are sharp in New York, and horses sired by Mastery are doing very well at the moment. However, the dam, Vagabond, was strictly a turf horse, running all of her career races at a mile or longer on the grass. She might be using this race as a springboard to a longer grass race in New York. I’m not certain about her in a dirt sprint, especially when drawing the rail. I’ll use her, but I prefer Dia de Sol (11) breaking from the outside for Eduardo Azpurua. She was a distant third in her debut at Colonial, but she was beaten by Hidden Connection, who was breathtaking when winning the Pocahontas last week. She has a decent work over the course, and could move forward in her second time around. Dario’s Angel (7) is another one that would be worth using here. Greg Sacco is certainly capable of winning with a debut runner. Her dam, Ubetwereven, has foaled two other horses sired by Orb that haven’t yet made it to the track. However, prior to that, her foal sired by Uncle Mo, King For a Day, beat Maximum Security on the square in the Pegasus here a few years ago. He was third in his debut at Saratoga in 2018 and was a winner in his second career try, so there is some precocity in the bloodlines. This one looks like she could be a bit of a runner.
Race 5: Top Pick: 5 (Turf) / 7 (Dirt)
I’m pretty sure this is the first race carded for open $7,500 claimers at this meet. It’s carded for fillies and mares to run 5 Furlongs on the turf. As long as they stay on the turf, Tuffgirlsdontcry (5) is going to be a tough foe in this spot. She was a winner with open $6,250 claimers at this distance over at Penn National in July. Her follow up effort at that level was washed off the turf two weeks ago, leading to her dull effort. She likes to run on or near the front end, which was the place to be on this course prior to the rains this week. Liana Susquehanna (3) has a shot on either surface, but I think she’s better suited to the turf at this point in her career. She looked like she desperately needed her last race on grass two starts back when she was making her first start since November. She faced significantly better rivals that day when fading to finish 7th. She dropped to open $10K claiming company at Delaware last month and closed well to be second in a race taken on the grass. She’s making her third start of the year and getting class relief while coming back to the grass, a surface which she ran strong races on back in 2019. Buff’s In Love (11) will need some help to draw into the body of this field. I don’t love the claim and drop, as she was taken for $16K at Colonial last month in her most recent start. She’s come up short in her last several, all while facing stronger horses. Closers have struggled to get up lately, and there’s not a ton of sharp speed in this spot. She might be better suited for the bottom of the vertical exotics, but I could cover with her some of deeper plays.
On the main track, Hightime Valentine (7) becomes the one to beat while getting moving to open claiming company after scoring with restricted claimers at the same tag. She was claimed two back for this tag and looks to be getting back to the better form that she was showing at Tampa this spring. Raelyn’s Star (9) would draw in off the MTO list if this race comes off the turf, and like Hightime Valentine, she’s also coming in off a win. She beat restricted $5K claimers last out, winning in her local debut. She was claimed and given a little time off. She worked swiftly at 3F a few weeks, inspiring confidence that she’ll run well again at the 5 Furlong distance on dirt.
Win Early Pick-5 Play: $54.00 Ticket
Race 1: 2, 4, 5 (T) / 2, 3, 8 (D)
Race 2: 3, 5
Race 3: 1, 5, 7 (T) / 5, 8, 9 (D)
Race 4: 1, 7, 11
Race 5: 3, 5 (T) / 7, 9 (D)
Race 6: Top Pick: 8
The late pick-4 starts with a $12,500-$10,500 claiming race for three year olds or older horses that have never won three races. I think the outside duo might be the ones that decide this race. This bulk of the money is going to be on V.I.P. Who (7), who is moving up the class ladder after being claimed by Douglas Nunn last out. He has been very sharp at this meet, winning two races handily, and losing in a photo in another. He’s a three year old with four wins, which is more than anyone else in here. He’ll likely leave the gate at lower odds than the 8-5 morning line, and while Douglas Nunn is very capable, his barn has been a little cold of late after a strong summer. I’ll definitely use him prominently in my tickets, but I’ll look for a little value with another three year old, slotted directly to his outside, Awesome Launch (8). I’m willing to completely draw a line through his last effort on the turf at this level. He had trouble at the break and was never involved, while running on a surface he doesn’t seem to enjoy. He was a winner two back on the dirt at 1 Mile and 1/16, when facing lesser claimers. His dirt form is steadily improving and he could do enough to beat the favorite with a decent trip. I think he’s closer to the favorite than his 8-1 morning line odds indicate, suggesting you’ll get decent value on this son of Breeders’ Cup Classic winner, Fort Larned.
Race 7: Top Pick: 11
The second of three races for New Jersey breds on the program is an optional claiming/N1X contest at 6 Furlongs. The favorite Brother Chub (4) is going to be tough to beat in this spot. He was a handy winner in the slop two back when he dropped to this level for the first time in a while. He followed up that effort with a respectable 4th place finish in the New Jersey Breeders Handicap here last month. He has consistently run Beyer figures in the high 60’s, which are numbers that many of these haven’t hit, which limits the number of logical contenders that could beat him. Pnutbutter Special (11) does make some sense though, as a horse that could improve off his effort in the same state bred stakes last out, when he was five lengths behind Brother Chub. He was stuck on the inside that day, which is not ideal for him, especially when facing horses like Pickin’ Time and Golden Brown that are simply faster and classier than he is. However, he drew post 11 two back, and was four wide after dueling through very sharp fractions. He was still able to keep finding late to score in that race at this level. His speed figures have been steadily improving, and he finds a field that doesn’t have a ton of early speed. He might be able to hold off the favorite with the right trip. Counterfeitcurrency (9) has run two very different, but gutsy, races in a row after a pair of dreadful efforts here earlier in the meet. He was a part of a quick tempo early in the slop two back where he was headed, but still battled back gamely to come back to be second to Brother Chub. He was much farther off the pace when he was forced to steady in another race at this level last month. He came with a late six wide rush to get within a half length of the winner that day. He certainly has shown versatility and could be eligible to improve again after pairing his two best Beyer figures in those efforts.
Race 8: Top Pick: 1 (Turf) / 9 (Dirt)
The feature race today is a strong optional $30K claiming/N2X allowance race, carded for the turf at 1 Mile and 1/8. The morning line favorite is the three year old, Mohs (3) who was very impressive in his two local races. He broke his maiden emphatically in the mud when his maiden special weight contest was taken off the grass. He got back on the grass for the second time, and he was able to win despite a rough trip where he hit the gate early and was blocked and forced to steady. That effort earned him a chance to face Grade 3 opponents in the Saranac at Saratoga, where he was outclassed by a nice Chad Brown colt, Public Sector. He drops in class today and gets Paco Lopez to ride, but I think this is a very good field of seasoned veterans, and I’m not willing to take a short price on him with this group. I think Reconvene (1) is going to be tough here and could be single worthy in the late sequences. He showed a lot of promise last year as a three year old, winning in N1X company here in August and running strong races against stakes foes in the James Murphy at Pimlico and the Bryan Station at Keeneland. He’s run three times this year and the two turf races have been against stronger groups. He couldn’t go with the classy Chad Brown colt, Value Proposition in the Red Bank three weeks ago, but he wasn’t embarrassed by that one either. He draws well and has shown more tactical speed of late. I think he is the most likely winner here. On deeper tickets, don’t discount Projected (7) who has been a force in the open claiming ranks at this meet. This race is a definitely step up in class, but he has handled his business in every start thus far. Gerrardo Corrales is back aboard after two straight wins on his back.
On the main the track, the three main track only horses are going to be tough. Croatian (9) was claimed two back by Wayne Potts for $30K at this level in a race carded for the dirt, He was dull that day, but he improved when he finished 5th in the Grade 3 Philip Iselin when he was beaten by multiple Grade 1 winner, Code of Honor. He looks to be headed back to the better form we saw from him at this oval last summer. Big City Bob (10) made his first start of the year last month at this level in the bullring at Timonium. He definitely has some back class as he finished 3rd in the Grade 1 Champagne in 2019 behind future Belmont and Travers winner, Tiz The Law. His three year old campaign wasn’t great, but he is a candidate to improve in more desirable circumstances on the dirt here. Counter Offer (11) put up a big figure when he won an off the turf race here with $16K N4L claimers two weeks ago. Most of his races have been on the turf, but his dirt efforts aren’t too shabby. There’s other speed signed on, so he won’t get the easy setup he got last time, but I think he still could be a factor here.
Race 9: Top Pick: 8
I’m definitely looking for value in the nightcap, which is a New Jersey bred optional $15K claiming/N1X allowance race for fillies and mares at one mile. Dantastic (1) is the morning line favorite, making her first start since being claimed by Darien Rodriguez. As I referenced in the first race, his record with horses in their first start off the claim speaks for itself, winning 39% of the time over the last 20 months. Paco Lopez rides, which is another plus, as he’s upgrading just about every horse he’s on right now. However, this filly hasn’t won since last October, and was a beaten favorite last out. She has run her best races around one turn, never hitting the board in three tries at this distance. I’ll use her on some deeper tickets, but I prefer Beatubyachubinose (8) who was dull last out when she was my top choice at this level. She was claimed by Patricia Farro out of that race and needs to avoid being wide while forcing a faster early pace; a strategy which led to her downfall last out. She was a dominating winner at this level three starts ago and I’m expecting her to rebound here. Rachel Caroline (2) is the X-factor in this race. She closed well to beat a nice field of state bred maiden special weight horses, beating the boys two back. She was pace compromised last week when sprinting at this level, putting in a mild rally to get up for third. The track last week was kinder to speed than it had been over the previous few weeks. She tries two turns on the dirt for the first time, which is a question mark for sure, but I think 8-1 (ML) is solid value on her here.
Meet Stats: 138/479 (Top Pick Winners) – $928.60 / $1.94 ROI per $2 win bet